Participants take a quick dip in the 12th annual Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Pleasant. In the center, Elen Verzosa goes into the chilly water headfirst. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

Participants take a quick dip in the 12th annual Polar Bear Plunge in Lake Pleasant. In the center, Elen Verzosa goes into the chilly water headfirst. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: The how and why of Lake Pleasant plungers

THIS YEAR, I thought about joining the Polar Bear Plunge at Lake Pleasant in Beaver on New Year’s Day.

Personally, I like to cannonball if the water is cold. The jump usually punctuates a countdown and without the commitment of both feet in the air, I’m likely to chicken out.

But when I got up to feed the critters and saw there was a thin layer of ice in the water troughs and buckets, I chickened out.

Cluck, cluck.

Elen Verzosa from the Three Rivers area west of Forks did not chicken out Jan. 1.

At 10 a.m., the morning was bright and a wind chopped the surface of the lake. The air was 34 degrees.

Fourteen people stood along the beach with their toes barely being licked by the water.

Some had towels wrapped over their shoulders until the last moment.

All brave souls waited for organizer Carin Hirsch of Forks to ring the bell to signify it was time to plunge.

The whole event was over in moments.

Most of the polar bear people were kids and their sensible adults were ready with dry towels and clothes in hand.

I caught up with Verzosa as she was getting into her truck, her long hair hanging wet over her shoulders.

It seemed cruel to ask questions when she was so thoroughly wet and the air was so cold.

I got her number and called to ask about her experience much later when she was in a warmer situation.

“I am passionate about jumping into cold water,” Verzosa said.

She explained that she got hooked during her 28 years in Hawaii, where she grew to dislike the warm ocean and sought out the much cooler water in the mountains on Kauai Island.

The passion continued when she moved to Northern California and has now become an almost daily event in the rivers by her West End home.

She frequently packs her swimsuit with her and explains plunging into cold water “is the absolute best thing for me because it positively does something to me physically and spiritually.”

Verzosa said she didn’t have to psyche herself up New Year’s Day.

“I will admit that it was very cold that day,” she said. “My feet were numb even before I got in the water.”

But she ventured forward, undaunted, and dove in.

“I did it the Hawaii way, head first,” Verzosa said.

She added that immediately putting socks on and taking a hot shower later made the whole experience “perfect.”

Hirsch stood on the dock at Lake Pleasant to start the Polar Bear Plunge by ringing a bell.

She was carrying on a tradition started by her daughter, Sonja Hirsch, and friend, Monica Henry.

Of the years there has been a New Year’s Day plunge at Lake Pleasant, she said 2009 stuck out in her mind as there were about 31 people who participated even though that year was the worst weather-wise because there was five inches of snow on the ground and a layer of ice on the lake.

In order for it to be a true Polar Bear Plunge, Hirsch explained that one’s head must go completely underwater.

“You can’t hardly breathe because it’s so cold,” she explained.

“But it’s amazing how you feel afterward,” Hirsch said. “After you take a hot shower, you feel so invigorated all day.”

In the past she harnessed that energy to put all her Christmas decorations away.

Hirsch participated in the Lake Pleasant plunge for 10 years.

“Then, one year it was just me and a bunch of kids and I decided to stop,” she said, adding “I’ll always ring the bell, but I don’t think I’ll get back into the water.”

_________

Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.

Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorina barker81@gmail.com, or phone her at 360-327-3702. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be Jan. 23.

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